New use for NAC may help with autism irritability


Irritability is a common side effect of autism. It disrupts the home and school setting, social functions and therapy sessions. The behaviors might include tantrums, acts of aggression and even self-injurious behavior. These uncontrollable actions make it difficult for an autistic child to function.

N-acetylcysteine (NAC) has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of acetaminophen overdoses, but other applications are now being studies. NAC helps maintain and restore glutathione, which plays a role in the antioxidant defense system. It also stimulates a protein resulting in the decrease of glutamatergic neurotransmission. There are two resulting effects: 1) it may protect brain cells, and 2) it may reduce irritability and excitability of the glutamate system by stimulating inhibitory receptors.

There are two popular theories about the causes of autism and NAC theoretically works for both. As a result researchers at Stanford University and the Cleveland Clinic conducted a pilot trial of NAC in children with autism. They received NAC for 12 weeks and were tested randomly four times during that time period.

Irritability was significantly decreased in the kids who received NAC. It was well tolerated and had few side effects.

“Data from this preliminary trial suggest that NAC has the potential to be helpful in targeting irritability in children with autism. It is also unclear if NAC improves other symptom domains in autism,” said lead author Dr. Antonio Harden.

“At this point it is too early to tell how NAC reduced irritability in autism, but this finding will be an important addition to the field if it can be replicated,” said Dr. John Krystal, Editor of Biological Psychiatry.

Source: MedicalNewsToday, Biological Psychiatry

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